“I wanted to feel unsure again. That’s the only way I learn, the only way I feel challenged.” — Connie Chung
“There’s only one kind of woman…or man, for that matter. You either believe in yourself or you don’t.” — James T. Kirk
“The only way to know whether or not I can do something is to just do it.” — Hazel Sy
So maybe I am not a renowned journalist or the captain of an interstellar spaceship, but I do believe that we need to continually push ourselves…and have the confidence to step up to the challenges. Make marshmallows when you have never worked with sugar before, and take on an unfamiliar high-profile project at work. As we continue to challenge ourselves, feeling unsure creates an excited high. At least it is cheaper and healthier than a heroin addiction.
I have always been scared of heights and speed. After 16 years of snowboarding, I still stop at the top of a black diamond trail and hyperventilate as I peer down the steep slope. I checked off skydiving from my bucket list. Although, my first inane thought after we jumped was that I wanted to climb back into the plane. I also tried flying trapeze 30 feet in the air overlooking the Hudson River. Each time I climbed the ladder was a challenge, but I just had to climb 2/3 of the way up. By then it didn’t make sense to shimmy down and back out. With all of these adventures, one would think that I finally overcame my fear. Not in the least. But I have gained immense satisfaction from knowing that my fear doesn’t hold me back.
And so I was giddy as a schoolgirl when I ripped open the box from Williams-Sonoma. They had sent me their Stainless Steel Smoker Box to try out. I have never smoked anything before so this was a delicious way to expand my culinary repertoire. I dived right in and decided to make Tea Smoked Pork Belly. I have been experimenting with using tea in cooking and baking lately, including Sencha Coconut Cookies. I needed a strong black tea for this dish and went with lapsang souchong. Lapsang leaves are smoke-dried so would provide a hearty smokiness. If you want an instant smoky flavor for other types of dishes, you can saute bacon with the flavor base (e.g. onions, carrots and celery) or rub your meat with a little paprika.
Our family friend Vivien suggested that I include brown sugar since it is used for Chinese Tea Smoked Duck. I loved the idea of combining the smokiness with caramel and molasses, so the brown sugar went in with the tea. And to round out the smoking ingredients, I added uncooked rice because of the nutty smokiness found in Korean roasted rice teas and Japanese genmaicha (green tea with roasted rice).
I lined the bottom pan with aluminum foil before putting in the smoking ingredients for easy clean-up. The rest of the smoker box was also easy to clean. I also liked how the perforated insert and cover enabled me to concentrate the smoke in a small area for the pork belly. I still kept the grill closed to maintain a constant temperature. The smoker is also flexible enough to turn the whole grill into a smoker box by just using the bottom tray and closing the grill. I recommend getting two pitt mitts for safety. I may even start using the pitt mitts as oven mitts, they were really heat proof for handling the hot smoker box.
The resulting pork belly was juicy and tender with an appetizing hint of smokiness. And as with every new challenge, I have a few lessons learned from this experience that I incorporated into the final recipe below:
1) Smoke the pork belly at 280 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours instead of at 325 degrees so that the skin and edges do not burn.
2) Instead of scoring the pork belly skin, pierce the skin and meat sides of the pork belly for it to absorb more of the marinade.
3) Increase the amount of lapsang souchong tea for an even smokier flavor.
4) Smoking has the same “set it and forget it” benefits of a slow cooker. It makes the meat tender, and I can spend time with the family instead of hovering over the stove.
This smoker box is going to get a lot of use at family barbecues this summer with fun projects such as Hickory Smoked Chicken using soaked Hickory Wood Chips and homemade Smoked Salmon. And if you do not have access to a grill, you can still challenge yourself and add smoking to your repertoire. Try using a soaked Cedar Grilling Plank (or a pack of Maple, Alder and Cedar Planks) in your oven. As the Klingon proverb says “Act, and you shall have dinner; wait, and you shall be dinner.”
Tea Smoked Pork Belly
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork belly
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice wine (or sherry wine)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup lapsang souchong black tea
1/3 cup uncooked rice
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon canola oil
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Pierce the skin side and the meat side of the pork belly in 8 – 10 places with a fork or pairing knife. Place pork belly in a large resealable plastic bag and add the marinade ingredients. Seal the bag and mix the pork and marinade by shaking and pressing on the bag. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the grill to 280 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping the grill cover closed.
Line the bottom tray of the smoker box with aluminum foil. Spread the smoker ingredients on top of the foil. Place the perforated insert into the smoker box, brush the insert with 1/2 teaspoon canola oil and set aside.
Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons canola oil and heat until it shimmers. Add 2 teaspoons granulated sugar and tilt the pan to swirl the oil to cover all of the sugar. Heat the sugar until it becomes a dark golden color, about 30 seconds to 1 minutes. Place the pork belly skin side down into the pan. Do not move the pork belly and briefly brown for 3 minutes. Flip the pork belly and brown the meat side for another 3 minutes.
Place the pork belly skin side up onto the smoker box insert. Cover over the smoker box and place it into the grill directly over the heat. Grill for 3 hours.
Use mitts to remove the smoker box from the grill. Slice the pork belly and serve.
A Midsummer Night’s Fling: Helping Kids Through Creative Drama
Spend a fun summer evening over drinks and hors d’oeuvres at the ENACT A Midsummer Night’s Fling fundraiser on Wednesday, July 20th. The fundraiser was organized with help from Emaan Mahmood, Steven Schumacher, and volunteers from Credit Suisse. The silent auction features a Tasty Pursuits gourmet treat basket, coaching from professional actors from the stage and screen as well as many other fantastic items. Buy tickets in advance to take advantage of the early bird discount!
ENACT is a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth in NYC public schools through individually tailored in-school Student Programs, After-School Programs, Full School Partnerships, Auditorium Performances, Parent & Family Workshops, and Professional Staff Development.